Flawed Circumcision Defense: LZ Granderson

The editorial I analyze in this post is several weeks old now, but it’s been referenced elsewhere a few times. It’s worth a response.

LZ Granderson wrote an editorial at CNN on the proposal in San Francisco to prohibit non-therapeutic male child circumcision. It’s an embarrassing piece, largely because Mr. Granderson never considers the healthy child as an individual who might not want to be circumcised.

Once he gets going:

Besides the measure having no provision for religious practices — thereby making it unconstitutional — …

This is armchair lawyering, and easily refuted. There are the merits of the First Amendment and parental rights, which are summarized quite well in these two posts at The Volokh Conspiracy from last week. The religious freedom to act on another is a lot more complicated than simply claiming a religious requirement. There are competing rights involved, including a right to be free from unnecessary harm that is not yet adequately (or equally) protected. Mr. Granderson’s dismissal is flawed. It doesn’t disqualify his opinion, but it suggests the level of research he has (not) performed on this topic.

We chuckle, but from interracial marriage to masturbation, politicians have been trying to tell us what to do with our genitalia for centuries. …

Here, parents are telling their sons what to do with their genitalia. If the male does not want his genitals altered, his genitals are still altered. Since his body has been violated, what difference is it to him that his parents did it than if his government had ordered it? The proposed government involvement leaves that choice to individuals rather than dictates how he must be, which is what parents have been doing for more than a century in the U.S. Proposals like this that protect individual rights possess the stronger liberty position.

I get the science behind not having the procedure done: There are nerve endings that are being severed during the procedure, and it is normally not medically required. But generally speaking it has not been proven to be medically harmful either, though there have been rare occasions of infection and excessive bleeding requiring stitches.

Surgery is harmful. How can Mr. Granderson acknowledge that in sentence one and then deny it in sentence two? In the space between writing those two sentences, did severing nerve endings become not harmful? It’s more frustrating because his denial includes examples of medical harm. Other, more severe, outcomes are possible, too, including death. Mr. Granderson seems determined to believe what he wants to be true, regardless of facts.

Besides being an important aspect of some religions, circumcisions improve hygiene, …

Access to proper hygiene facilities is not a modern American problem in significant numbers. The same hygiene that females use to maintain their bodies works for males. To think that surgery is justified is simply begging one’s own question.

… which is effective in limiting urinary tract infections and the transference of STDs. …

The same treatments we use for UTIs in females work for males. For STDs condoms work better. Not all males engage in unsafe sex, so the potential benefit is useless for them. It is unethical to impose it because it may not be desired.

…And speaking of sex, having a circumcised penis saves the young man of the potential embarrassment of having a new partner look at his nude body and say “What in the hell is wrong with your… penis.”

Or something like that.


A recent study conducted by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researcher suggests the number of circumcisions performed dropped from 56% in 2006 to 33% in 2009. So chances are you or someone you know is uncircumcised, a fact that is really none of the business of complete strangers — government officials and busy-body voters alike. Why someone would sign a petition making it their business is beyond me.

This is just ridiculous. If a man reveals his normal nude body to a new sexual partner and the response he gets is “What in the hell is wrong with your… penis?”, I hope his parents will have taught him enough self-respect to treat his new partner as the person with the (hopefully correctable) defect. Would we accept that thought process if we started surgically altering girls so that they wouldn’t be shamed by their eventual sexual partners?

I could see the government getting involved in the decisions parents make about their children if there was evidence that circumcisions were a life-threatening practice — like failure to use car seats for young children. …

The standard is not whether the action is “life-threatening” or not. A punch to the face isn’t life-threatening, but it’s still wrong. Genital cutting on healthy female minors is illegal (and wrong), even where the damage is equally or less harmful than male genital cutting, which is to say, not life-threatening. (Typically.) This is once again question-begging.

Of course, some boys do die from circumcision. Circumcision is not usually life-threatening, but the risk of death exists every time it’s performed, which is why we generally avoid inflicting surgery on healthy people. Especially without their consent.

… I could see if the proposed ban was addressing a patriarchal practice such as female genital mutilation.

Male circumcision is a patriarchal practice. Aren’t many boys circumcised by their parents, at the father’s insistence that the child’s genitals match his genitals? Some doctors advise undecided parents to make the decision based on the father’s penis. Is that the rule of the male? Does it subordinate children? Mr. Granderson’s view here seems to be the mistaken belief that there is no harm if a practice is being imposed by someone onto someone else of the same gender. Do I need to link to examples of women imposing FGM on their daughters to demonstrate the fallacy of relying on this faulty standard?

This is about choice and preference and opinion and I am really tired of being subjected to ridiculous laws instituted by religious conservatives pandering to a bunch of crazy people or by meddling liberals who have nothing better to do.

This is about choice and preference and opinion? In what way? The child being circumcised does not choose. No one cares about his preference. No one waits to hear his opinion. The child is subjected to the choice, preference, and opinion of his parents. Permanently.

Seriously, if municipalities in San Francisco or Santa Monica honestly believe parents can’t be trusted to decide what’s best for their newborn’s foreskin, why on earth would they let them leave the hospital with the rest of him? It just doesn’t make sense.

California law already believes that parents can’t be trusted to decide what’s best for their newborn’s foreskin, but on the discriminatory view that only the female prepuce should be untouched without need or consent of the patient.

No wonder these anti-circumcision organizers have their sights on the rest of the country. We’re a bunch of nosy busy bodies who believe in an abbreviated version of freedom where we’re free to publicly debate what someone else should do with their private parts or the private parts of their newborn.

The status quo is the society with an abridged version of individual freedom. Again, the law in California (and most other places) already ended the public debate on what someone may do with the private parts of their daughters. Does that restrict parental “rights”? This debate is about fixing the status quo into a legitimate version of freedom where every individual, male or female, gets to decide which unnecessary genital surgeries they undergo or reject.


To address a point Mr. Granderson raises, the issue of the “Foreskin Man” comic book series is relevant to the discussion. It is not the end of the discussion, as some are suggesting. That the series is embarrassing, and that issue two uses anti-Semitic imagery, is undeniable. The comic book is disgusting and has no place in the discussion by anyone advocating against non-therapeutic male child circumcision. It is a shameful mark on its creators.

That said, I hope it’s abundantly clear that only a minority of people opposed to non-therapeutic male child circumcision accept this type of filth. As the Jewish Circumcision Resource Center states, “there is no organization that controls, or could control, what individuals who oppose circumcision may say or do.” The first issue of “Foreskin Man” is probably unhelpful, but issue two is unacceptable. But it’s not reflective of the principles involved or the majority of those who support and advocate those principles. I have commented elsewhere on this, and will let that stand as my personal defense. I also recommend this post from The Volokh Conspiracy as a useful guide on objectionable material.

3 thoughts on “Flawed Circumcision Defense: LZ Granderson”

  1. There’s little point in going over the whole thing as most of the bases have already been covered, however, there was one thing that bothered me that wasn’t brought up.

    “……. And speaking of sex, having a circumcised penis saves the young man of the potential embarrassment of having a new partner look at his nude body and say “What in the hell is wrong with your… penis.””

    So, Mr Granderson is suggesting that people deprive their son of a body part, on the offchance that in the future he’ll get intimate with a woman who is too ignorant to know what a penis is supposed to look like? What kind of argument is that?

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